Tracking American parenting through the New Yorker’s cartoons

Two sociologists examined over 6,000 New Yorker cartoons that involved parenting:

In their study, “The Parent Trap: What New Yorker Cartoons Reveal About Competing Trends in Childrearing,” Tabor and I.U. assistant professor Jessica Calarco looked at 70,439 cartoons to identify and index about 6,000 cartoons that related to children or parenting…

The most negative portrayals of children were found in the ’20s and ’30s, but also in the 1990s and first decade of the new millennium, the pair discovered. Some of the drawbacks focused on the financial burdens caused by children. Others noted how parents sacrificed much of their own lives to make things better for their children…

“You’ll see the least-critical cartoons in the ’40s and ’50s,” Tabor says. Those decades showed lots of cartoons featuring parents proud of children’s accomplishments, such as playing a musical instrument or getting good grades in school. The 1970s and ’80s also saw an uptick in cartoons that were more positive about child rearing. The 1960s featured cartoons showing the positives and negatives for parents…

“Our data suggest that when cultural standards increase child-rearing’s degree of difficulty, and especially when parents are judged harshly for failing to meet those cultural standards, the decision to become a parent becomes a much more difficult one,” the study concludes. “Faced with these mounting pressures, would-be parents feel compelled to either keep up or opt out. And as more parents opt out, society sees an increase in the number of individuals and families who decide to be ‘child-free.'”

I assume the academic article discusses this but I imagine there are at least a few intervening variables:

  1. The gatekeeping done by the editors at the New Yorker. Cartoons, like other magazine content, likely has to go through an approval processes. The cartoonist could want to present a particular narrative but that doesn’t necessarily mean the magazine would go for it. So, who were the editors making these decisions and what influenced their perspectives on parenting?
  2. The New Yorker appeals to a particular audience. According to 2012 Pew Research data on American’s news sources, 41% of their readers earned more than $75,000 and 64% had a college degree or more education, and 57% of readers are Democrats. (The magazine leads the pack in the most educated and is nearly the most Democratic. Do these cartoons then reflect an educated, monied, liberal perspective on parenting?

Still, going through 6,000 cartoons over time from a prominent source could lead to some interesting findings. And given the number of New Yorker cartoon books out there, why not have one dedicated to just parenting?

Sociologist makes academic action figures

Is it ironic for a sociologist to create action figures of academics?

Very few universities have had realistic “action figures” made of their faculties and staff. One exception is the University of the Ozarks in Arkansas, where Dr. Jesse Weiss (Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies) has produced a collection of them.

The professor hatched the idea via his hobby of customizing action figure models from manufacturer Jakks Pacific. Classics so far include Ozarks President Dr. Rick Niece [pictured below], along with Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Sean Coleman, and Assistant Professor of English Dr. Brian Hardman.

“All it takes is a dremel tool, model paint, and Sculpey modeling compound for the hair, beards, glasses – and time,” explains the artist. (Unfortunately Jakks Pacific no longer make the requisite base figures, but the professor has a large plastic bin and drawers filled with spare parts.)

Does the action figure come with a small explanation of the cultural importance of action figures along with commentary on the gender stereotypes such figures promote? (Check out the muscles on those academics!)

Another thought: what are the most common curios academics keep on their desk or in their offices?

A basic sociological take on The Smurfs

In a piece that could be a  Sociology 101 analysis, here is the conclusion regarding Smurf society:

The Smurfs society is unusually strong. Many times their status quo has been challenged, most notably with the introduction of Smurfette, with the community prevailing. The identity roles of each member of the society are well-defined which creates a symbiotic bond between each member and their chosen paths. In relation to humanity and childhood, this translates into cooperative theory and play. When a group of kids gets together on a “mission” they choose a leader (or usually the strongest personality volunteers him or herself) and from there roles are assigned.

Where other cartoons focused on individual efforts, The Smurfs focused on the society functioning as a whole, with individual roles each playing a part in the machine. This is a great example of a small society functioning effectively, even if they lived in mushrooms.

Just invoke the name of Durkheim and perhaps we have a functionalist analysis.

Before the start of the analysis, here is how the author describes sociology:

In Part One of the Psychology of cartoons, I focused more on the individual psychology of certain cartoon characters. This is something that I will return to, but for the purpose of this post I’m switching gears and instead focusing on a large scale (or small scale) sociological study. As you may or may not know — the implication is in its name — sociology is the study of society. It’s a very broad psychological discipline, and there are many conflicting theories surrounding any hypothesis. Since I have no degree in psychology or sociology, and I’m just a geek that likes to pretend I know what I’m talking about, this is going to be one of the broader studies performed.

This could use some work, particularly the bit about sociology being a “very broad psychological discipline.”